Cookie Clicker – Game Analysis

I have to admit, when Pete told me to play a game in working hours, I was quite excited. Although I had never played ‘cookie clicker’ before. I did not even know what style of game it was. I also had no idea how addictive it could be. So what is it?

What is Cookie Clicker?

Cookie Clicker is an ‘incremental game’, where the main focus is to make a number go up over time. You click the cookie (effort) and you get more cookies (reward). You can then spend your cookies on upgrades to help you earn even more. Achievements awarded for reaching key milestones and tiers unlock as you progress. This allows for faster or bigger rewards.

Pretty simple right? Right…

Turns out that the simpler the game is, the more you have to focus on game mechanics to make it more playable. If you were just clicking on cookies with no upgrades or achievements, people would get bored. So what have they done here to make this game so addictive? Cognativelode.com puts it simply:

One of the key things making Cookie Clicker so addictive is its incremental system, where the main focus is to make a number go up over time, both actively and passively.

  1. Click the button to receive a number that increments with each click.
  2. Automatic-clicker upgrades become available for the cost of a number of clicks.
  3. They earn you automatic clicks per second on top of your manual clicks.
  4. So now progress is always being made towards the next upgrade goal, even when idle.

This incremental mechanic is incredibly addictive, because your past actions have a sustained, exponential impact on your current progress and future rewards. You’re propelled ever-further forwards, compelling you to repeatedly engage with the system.

A lot of time was spent by the creator of Cookie Clicker to achieve the optimal balance between upgrades & rewards, and the passive time and active effort required to reach them, resulting in a sustained engagement with the system.

Crucially, as you earn more points and gain a higher multiplier, the cost of unlocking further rewards goes up proportionately, safeguarding the profitability of the system.

The Cookie Clicker system also offers many tiers and upgrades. To limit distraction and prevent overwhelming users, only the next few tiers are available. I noticed this effect when I was playing. It creates a sense of curiosity about what might be next and that is powerful. I was forever telling myself to stop once I had “found out what they could think of to create more cookies”. As you get more cookies, further tiers become available. The next tier is structured so that it’s the only accessible tier to unlock.

The great thing is that unlocking the tiers allows for points to be created faster, accelerating you ever-faster towards the next tier. The bad news is that along with each tier, the price of it goes up exponentially. Alongside this, Upgrades offer many ways you can choose to spend your points. This part of the point’s redemption system is open to player choice and preference. What they choose will sculpt their experience within and use of the system. This allows players to take more ownership over the system.

Shane Fumagall

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